Nobody can accuse New Labour of being half-hearted in their embrace of New Colonialism. But even given the dynamics of the rush for hydrocarbons, Gordon Brown’s commitment to embroil the British military in the troubles of the Niger Delta is appalling.
We have got so used to military adventure abroad that there has been almost no reaction – despite the fact that we are going to support the most corrupt regime in the world, in an area where the pollution, social deprivation and political repression spawned by the oil industry are legendary. I know the Niger Delta very well indeed, having served four years in the commercial section of the British High Commission in Lagos. I have seen the environmental degradation, and met with the thuggish local police and military commanders in the pockets of Shell. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the rare moments the World focused on the repression in the Niger Delta, but that was the tip of the iceberg of political violence against the local population.
The rebellion in the Niger Delta is not a spontaneous evil, a mindless outbreak of anarchic violence that must be met with still more violence. It is paused by the grinding poverty and economic ruination of one of the most economically productive regions on earth, with the profits channelled to billionaires in Nigeria and to big oil.
Of course, British military involvement in Nigeria is hardly new. The majority of Nigeria’s military dictators were Sandhurst trained (but not Abacha, contrary to popular belief. He attended lesser English military colleges).
African Union prevarication over Mugabe opens eyes to the continuing venality of much African government, but there is perhaps not enough understanding of how far that permeated through into the United Nations (where senior staff require de facto approval of their home governments for appointment). “Professor” Ibrahim Gambari is Under Secretary and Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary General. Gambari was one of Abacha’s closest cronies. It was Gambari who said “Nigerians don’t need democracy because democracy is not food. It is not their priority now.” It was Gambari who told the United Nations that Ken Saro-Wiwa should be hung because he was “a mere common criminal”. It is therefore a certain sign of the bad faith of Nigeria’s negotiation that they pressed for Gambari to be appointed mediator with the rebels.
The only UK connection to this dispute is that the appalling practices of British oil companies have helped create the resentment that turned to rebellion. We should not get involved in more killing for oil.